Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma on Thursday said the party’s campaign planning for the Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls could have been “much better” with the deployment of senior leaders, and rued that his services were not fully utilised.
However, Mr Sharma added that Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has led a spirited campaign in the state and he was confident that the Congress would win the polls and get a “stable majority”.
He also said both the BJP and the Congress were “culpable” for not having assessed the implications of the new pension scheme and termed an “error of judgment” the move to opt for it when Virbhadra Singh was the chief minister.
In an interview with PTI, the former Union minister said he had campaigned to the best of his ability in the polls wherever the Congress candidates invited him but there was no centralised planning for his campaign.
“We are better placed than 2017 because we have taken up issues which are of special concern to the masses whether it is unemployment, inflation, the old pension scheme or the Agnipath recruitment scheme,” the 69-year-old leader, who had been named in the party’s list of star campaigners, said.
Mr Sharma was disgruntled in the months leading up to the polls but campaigned and held public meetings in favour of Congress candidates at various places towards the business end of the campaign.
He was among the prominent members of the group of 23 leaders along with the likes of Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal, who wrote to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 seeking large-scale reforms. Sibal and Azad later quit the party.
Mr Sharma, a member of the steering committee of the party set up by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge till a new Congress Working Committee is formed, exuded confidence that his party would outperform the BJP despite the ruling party’s high voltage campaign involving Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several ministers “carpet bombing” with public meetings.
Asked about the Congress pitching its campaign on bringing back the old pension scheme (OPS) and the NPS introduction in the state after the OPS was discontinued in 2004, he said, “Both the BJP and Congress are culpable of not having assessed the implications of the new pension scheme”.
“It was perhaps an error of judgement to opt for it when we had Virbhadra Singh as CM. Unfortunately, we did not correct it when we returned to power in the state in 2012 and Mr. P Chidambaram was Finance Minister,” Mr Sharma told PTI. It is a national issue and the Centre and the states must sit together to resolve the matter, he added.
Asked about the Congress going for a low-key campaign and Rahul Gandhi not addressing any public meeting, Mr Sharma said Rahul Gandhi’s focus was on the Bharat Jodo Yatra and also it had been a conscious decision apparently that Priyanka Gandhi would be the main campaigner with others drafted in.
“Priyanka Gandhi has led a spirited campaign. But perhaps we could have coordinated this campaign better by utilising the available senior leaders,” he said.
He said the party had neither involved him in strategising the campaign nor taken his inputs in preparing the manifesto for the polls. “I believed it was my duty as a Congressman to campaign for the party wherever the candidates invited me to campaign but no campaign was centrally coordinated for me,” he said.
Asked about his unhappiness with the manner in which things were handled in the lead-up to him resigning as the party’s steering committee chief in the state, Mr Sharma said, “Yes I was (unhappy) because I was chairman of the steering committee but not involved in consultations nor invited in any meetings and even now in the strategic planning of the party campaign. I was not consulted, yet I have campaigned.”
He added, “I have campaigned without any complaints but as I have said, this could have been planned much better. The senior leaders were available and should have been consulted, those who have knowledge of the state.”
Mr Sharma said he campaigned to the best of his ability wherever the candidates invited him. “I feel sad that though I made my services available, I was not fully utilised, there was no centralised planning for my campaign.”
He also said both the Congress and the BJP have been “hurt and wounded” by rebellions, adding that the BJP more so than the Congress. “There are constituencies which would get marginally or substantially impacted in terms of results (due to rebellions),” he said.
“I have no hesitation in saying we (Congress) made mistakes in selecting candidates in some constituencies,” the senior Congress leader said.
On Rahul Gandhi not campaigning in the polls, Mr Sharma said, “I would not like to comment, it was his decision and he is busy with the Bharat Jodo Yatra.” On the Congress not declaring the chief ministerial face, Sharma said a consensus could be reached once the MLAs are elected.
“There is nothing wrong with aspirants being there and people in politics have ambitions. Finally, only one will become and there will be consensus,” he said.
Asked if he would be in the running for the chief minister’s post if the Congress comes to power, Mr Sharma said he has not expressed any such ambition and campaigned wherever the candidates called him to campaign.
He also slammed the BJP’s “double engine” pitch, saying the state governments have functioned better on “single engine”. “If both engines do not function and the train is stranded on the platform how does that matter?” he said.
In August, Mr Sharma had resigned from the chairmanship of the party’s steering committee for the state, reportedly saying he was not consulted on the planning for the assembly elections.
Election to the 68-member Himachal Pradesh Assembly will be on November 12 and the results will be out on December 8.
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